It’s normal for NBA players to improve regularly and consistently as youngsters in the league. What separates Jaylen Brown from his peers though is that five seasons in and he’s still taking major leaps.
Last season Brown took the jump from solid role player to fringe All-Star, a common one for good NBA players. However, when most make that jump in their fourth NBA season, it generally means they’re pretty close to their plateau.
Take Pascal Siakam, a member of Brown’s draft class, as an example. Each season of Siakam’s career, he’s improved exponentially from the last. That is, until this season where he’s essentially the exact same player as last year.
Now of course there’s obviously nothing wrong with an All-Star who averages about 23 points a night and if that is where Siakam finishes, his career is inarguably a success based on every single reasonable expectation when he entered the league. For Brown, you could’ve said something very similar if last year’s 20 points a night with a true shooting percentage of 58.3 per cent was about it for him.
An efficient 20 point a game scorer with All-NBA type wing defence is an All-Star in most years and something the Celtics could easily build around. Brown clearly decided this offseason though that that wasn’t enough because now, he’s playing like a top 10-15 player in the world.
This year Brown is scoring 26.3 a night with other career highs in assist (3.5 per game), basically, every single shooting percentage and maybe most notably, field goal attempts with 19.1 overall.
What’s most fascinating about Brown’s leap though, is unlike say a CJ McCollum whose scoring is up this season mainly from jacking more threes, Brown’s is up from dominating the midrange. His percentage jumps are across the board from 10 feet to the three-point line in staggering amounts.
Sure his three-point percentage is up but because he’s actually down in attempts from 5.9 to 5.7 so his makes are essentially identical from distance (2.3 vs 2.4). No, the specialness of Brown’s game this year has been in two-point territory, a foreign concept for many in the 2020s (man did that feel weird to write).
His attempts from two are up to from 9.6 last season to 13.4 this year with 9.7 of those being outside five feet. When you look at the percentages he’s putting up there, it makes complete sense why it would want to shoot so much more from there.
For those with a minimum of 1.5 attempts in each range, Brown is leading the NBA in field goal percentage in the 10-14 and 15-19 foot areas. From 20-24 feet, the dreaded long two, Brown dips to seventh in the league, just behind some dude named Kevin Durant.
There’s a real case to be made that Jaylen Brown has been the best midrange scorer in the NBA this season. Think about that. Not Durant or DeMar DeRozan or Kawhi Leonard, Jaylen Brown has been the one to find the most success.
As impressive as that is, what impresses me most is the percentage of his two-point buckets that are unassisted.
This season Brown is down to just 43 per cent assisted from two, meaning the other 57 per cent, it was all him doing the work with the ball in his hands. Now of course they use him in screen and roll actions where he’s the ball handler but the fact remains, it’s not like he’s killing dudes running the JJ Redick midrange screens, it’s him dribbling and creating.
For a player who entered into the NBA as strictly a three and D guy, as evidenced by the percentage of his shots that were assisted in the above chart, to be able to get to this level of shot creation is extremely unusual. Of course, there will be the doubters who cry small sample size however for me, for a guy who has time and again improved incrementally throughout his career I believe in him and these numbers.
Sure, he may not be the best midrange shot-creator over an entire season but if he can remain elite on a team with another elite shot creator in Tatum, I’m not sure how you guard these guys. The duo of Brown and Tatum this season has been everything we wanted Paul George and Kawhi to be so if that type of ceiling is in the future for the Celtics, all I can say is good luck to the rest of the East.
Brown is a young 24 (his birthday is in October) and Tatum is two months from 23 (his birthday is in October). Last season we saw Tatum take the leap to shot creation stardom and it appears his teammate is doing the same this year.
In a league full of young players who regularly improve, it seems like Brown is in the one per cent of that group. To be still adding this much to his game in year five is a fascinating wrinkle to him and the Celtic’s future.
All I know for certain in watching him this season is that I will never bet against him again. His character is elite off the court and on the court well, we’ve seen how special that work ethic is as well.
Jaylen Brown is here ladies and gentleman as an elite player in the NBA and with what he’s shown us so far with how he can improve, we may need to find a new superlative to describe his talent in a year or so when he manages to continue to take more leaps.